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Stem Cell Transplant 101: Understanding the Basics

doctor talking to little girl and momStem cell transplants are a reliable way to treat leukemia in children, along with some other blood diseases. These procedures were more commonly called bone marrow transplants in the past, since the stem cells were taken directly from the bone marrow and injected into the bloodstream. Taking cells from the bone marrow is no longer always necessary.

What Are Stem Cells?

Stem cells exist in your body and have the potential to turn into any other type of cell. They’re the basic building blocks of the cells that make up your body. The types of stem cells that make blood cells are called hematopoietic stem cells.

Hematopoietic cells can become any of the three major types of blood cell: red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.

Stem Cell Transplants

There are two main types of stem cell transplants for leukemia in children: autologous and allogeneic. Which type of transplant your child receives will depend both on their specific medical condition and the availability of a stem cell donor.

Autologous Transplant

Patients act as their own donor with this transplant. The stem cells are typically taken from the child before a treatment such as chemotherapy starts. The cells are frozen during the child’s treatment and then replaced when the treatment ends.

Allogeneic Transplant

The stem cells for an allogeneic transplant come from a donor. Often the donor is a close family member, but matches with other volunteers are also possible. Unlike with an autologous transplant, there is a risk of a child’s body rejecting the donated cells.

Stages of Stem Cell Transplant

Stem cell transplantation is a very complex process that may span several months. It can include the search for a donor along with conditioning therapy, which kills unhealthy cells to make room for stem cells to grow.